The Flame in the Flood Review – Float On (PS4)
Survival games rarely clicked for me in the past, as I often found myself running around without any sort of goal. Sure, I needed to constantly keep my vital meters filled, but I was often left without any sort of progression. That lack of direction always hurt my enjoyment, as I could only get lost in Don’t Starve so many times until I eventually gave up on braving the harsh world that was generated specifically to kill me.
Thankfully, The Flame in the Flood has a very direct goal that is easy to understand. The player is attempting to get to the bottom of the river that they (they travel with a cute dog named Aesop) call home, as they live in a massively flooded area that is reminiscent to the central US. To do this, they’ll have to live off the land as they float down the dangerous river and try to avoid the dangerous weather that has already altered their lives to such a degree.
Missed the Boat
This also separates the game into two distinct sections: on foot and rafting. The former is exactly what people expect from a survival game, as players will navigate the small environments they dock at. These areas can range from a farm to what used to be a bar. No matter what location you stop at, though, they all will contain different sorts of plants, and items can be found within. These items are essential to surviving, as players will have to deal with various ailments (such as weather or animal attacks) alongside managing their hydration level, hunger, rest and body temperature.
All of the different locations tend to fall into a few different types (which are conveniently given icons), and over time I knew which type of place I would have to stop if I needed penicillin or lumber. This helps a lot, as every stop also comes with inherent danger. The game is pretty safe early on, but as I traveled downstream I came across areas filled with different types of dangerous animals. Boars would ram into my character and break their bones, wolves threatened to do much worse, and snakes were packed with venom. Avoiding taking damage from these foes was just as important as making sure I was stacked with food and medicine.
A lot of the game becomes managing item inventory, but thankfully there’s a few neat aspects that keep it from becoming too difficult to do. First off, additional items can be held by both your dog and on your raft. It’s not as convenient as in your own bag (where items need to be in order to craft more complex traps and goods), but the extra space can be a life saver. It’s also nice to keep stuff that isn’t used often on the raft, that way it’s not taking up important slots.
While self care is most important in The Flame in the Flood, it’s also key to make sure your raft stays in good shape. Players will have to steer the makeshift boat to avoid wreckage, rocks and other hazards. If not, it’ll take damage and eventually sink to the bottom of the river causing a game over screen. Handling the raft is pretty difficult at first, but it’s really thrilling when narrowly avoiding a car floating down river. Much like your health can be replenished by eating berries and jerky, the player can also fix up their boats at specific stops. If they’re lucky, they can even upgrade their raft into a more versatile vehicle that makes travel a lot easier.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
One of my favorite aspects of The Flame in the Flood is how the game really captures the vibe of going on an adventure. There is always an uncertainty as the raft travels downstream. That feeling would constantly shift between excitement and dread, all dependant on the situation I was currently in. After all, It only took one good stop to revitalize a run gone awry, but the opposite was also true. As sometimes the best stop I could make was simply not stopping at all.
One of my best runs ended by exploring an area further than I should have. I had spotted snakes nearby, yet I wanted to make sure that I had picked up all the goods, so I ran behind a tree. Unseen to me, there was a snake hiding there and its bite was enough to end my entire run. If I had simply played the situation cautiously, I could’ve continued my trek without any ailment and lived to see another day. Despite the death being my fault, it was still frustrating that I ran into such a bad situation without knowing. The game can seem a bit unfair with how enemies can hide in obscured areas, and it makes some runs feel a bit too random.
The childlike sense of adventure (which is not unlike what you’d find in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) is also enhanced by the game featuring a fantastic original soundtrack. It features music by country artist Chuck Ragan, who really brings the whole experience alive. He’s created ten songs that are the perfect accompaniment to floating down the river, and it manages to go well with both the bad and good situations alike.
March into the Sea
One of the coolest features of the PlayStation 4 version of The Flame in the Flood is that it includes developer’s commentary. This has been one of my favorite trends in gaming, so after a few runs I turned the feature on to learn more about the game’s development, and the people behind it. The actual commentary is good and insightful, but it’s sadly implemented in a way that isn’t really ideal. Players have to activate cassette tapes that are scattered around various stops, and taking seconds to go out of your way and press start on something works well in a game like Dear Esther, but not when you’re suffering from dehydration in The Flame in the Flood.
I really wish the commentary was in a video, similar to how Brothers and Journey handled it, as the survival gameplay just doesn’t mesh with that sort of extra. Either that, or players were able to toggle on an invincibility option while playing so they were able to hear all of the information in one go. While the implementation isn’t perfect, the commentary is still very cool to see. Hopefully more developers will continue to do this, as it really helps a studio feel more human and gives the player something more to remember them by than just the names in the credits that roll by all too fast.
The Flame in the Flood is an incredibly charming survival game. Even those that don’t tend to love the harsh genre will enjoy the visual flair and fantastic soundtrack on offer. There’s also several different options to make the game more difficult or easier (checkpoints can be added) depending on how much of a challenge you want. Whether players actually complete their trip will come down to their determination, but they’ll have a good time, even if the rafting session ends a bit early due to a wolf attack.
Review code for The Flame in the Flood provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.